Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Enter The Dragon

The Lantern Festival has been part of Chinese New Year celebrations since the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 221 AD).
Usually held on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar, it marks the end of New Year festivities. The holiday evolved from an ancient Chinese belief that celestial spirits could be seen flying about in the light of the first full moon of the lunar calendar. To aid them in their search for the spirits they used torches. These torches gave way to lanterns of every shape, size and colour.
The festival is also popularly referred to as Chinese Valentine’s Day because in days of old it gave girls and boys a rare chance to go out in the evening and mingle. Today Lantern Festivals are held each year in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan to mark the end of Chinese New Year celebrations. Competitions are held to select the best lanterns. These lanterns come in all shapes and sizes: animals, insects, flowers, people or even machines or buildings. Others depict scenes from popular stories teaching traditional values. A favourite subject is the zodiac animal of the year - which in 2012 is the dragon.
Dragons are charismatic, ambitious and prefer to live by their own rules. They’re driven, willing to take risks, and are not afraid of challenges. They’re also passionate people who put a great deal of energy into all that they do. However, this enthusiasm can leave dragons feeling exhausted! If you were born in 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988 or 2000, then you are a dragon and this is your year!
The colours, sights, smells and tastes all combine to make an exciting Festival - and a great introduction to Asian culture: a fun family evening.
Auckland Lantern Festival: Feb.3-5, Albert Park
Christchurch Lantern Festival: Feb.11-12, Carlton Corner, North Hagley Park

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mammoth Task

Is it possible to clone a mammoth?
A mammoth thighbone found last August in Siberia contains very well-preserved marrow, increasing the chances of successful cloning.
A Russian/Japanese scientific team will begin full-fledged joint research this year to clone the giant mammal, the remnants of which became extinct at least 3,600 years ago.
Biology 101: by transplanting nuclei from the marrow cells into elephant egg cells whose nuclei have been removed through a cloning technique, embryos with a mammoth gene could be produced and planted into elephant wombs, as the two species are close relatives.
For the first time, there's a high likelihood that biologically active nuclei can be extracted as the frozen marrow found in August was in excellent condition. Scientists will now try to obtain elephant eggs for the research project.
For me, the big question must be: if mammoths ARE successfully cloned, what will be done with them?
Will there be plans for entire herds?
Will they become scientific "test rats"?
Will they be bred as a cold-weather meat source, or even as a source of ivory? Russia is already exporting 60 tonnes of mammoth ivory to China, the world's biggest ivory market, each year to meet a growing demand for ethical ivory (taking advantage of a global ban on the trade in elephant ivory). Scientists believe there could be as many as 150 million mammoths frozen beneath the Siberian tundra!
Unlike the recent instance of scientists mutating bird flu to make it airborne (thus potentially risking all mankind!!!), I don't actually have a problem with mammoths being cloned as such.
But I'd like to know the reasons WHY.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How New Zealand Won WWII

It could have been "The Last Great Naval Swordfight".
The result certainly changed the course of the Pacific War, and it all hinged on a little New Zealand navy corvette.
In January 1943, ferocious battles raged in the Solomon Islands. The Allied naval forces defending the Guadalcanal area included HMNZS Kiwi and sister ship HMNZS Moa. These Bird Class corvettes or minesweepers (sometimes ingloriously called trawlers) were quite small: just 51m. Heading towards them was a very large Japanese submarine, the I-1. At 98m, she dwarfed the pair.
After the Battle of Midway (June 1942), Japan had realised the Allies had cracked its military codes, so it brought its reserve codes into operation. I-1's crucial task was to deliver 20,000 reserve code books to Japanese forces in the South Pacific.
On the night of 29 January 1943, I-1 (under the command of Lt.Cdr. Eiichi Sakamoto) lay west of Honiara, near the area under Japanese control. Sakamoto managed to avoid the patrolling destroyers but, when taking one final look before surfacing, he missed seeing the small corvette Kiwi
When the large sub broke the surface directly in front of Kiwi, its captain (Lt. Cdr. Gordon Brisdon) could not believe his eyes. The submarine's phosphorescent outline could be clearly seen in the moonlight so Kiwi dropped six depth-charges. Immediately it dropped another six and the sub was forced to remain on the surface, its electric motors disabled. Switching on its diesels, I-1 made a run for it and a surface battle ensued, the vessels exchanging gunfire...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Jeep Ad - With Cross-Dresser!

We recently saw a trivial storm-in-a-D-cup over a supposed transgender individual in a tampon ad...
Wonder if there'll be the same *shock-horror-probe* over an ad featuring a cross-dressing dog! Yea. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
A jealous dog that dresses up in sexy lingerie, to hoodwink its female owner into thinking it's slept with her new boyfriend (!!!), appears to be the story behind a new ad in Australia for Jeep.
The 60-second spot introduces the new Jeep Compass targeted at women.
What? No storm-in-a-dogbowl...?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Anniversary Weekend Traffic Headache

Auckland drivers: expect major delays on the motorways this Anniversary Weekend.
A section of the Sthrn.Motorway will be closed to finish work before the new northbound Newmarket Viaduct opens. NZTA says the northbound lanes will be closed between Market Rd off-ramp and Gillies Ave on-ramp from 5pm tomorrow, this Saturday 28th., for final preparations to allow drivers to start using the northbound viaduct from Anniversary Monday morning January 30th.
NZTA's acting state highways manager for Auckland/Northland, Steve Mutton: "We're talking about re-directing up to 65,000 vehicles on Sunday alone. Even with detours, the impact will be felt well beyond the Sthrn.Motorway. If people absolutely must travel, we're urging they allow a lot more time. We accept this may cause frustration - particularly on a long weekend. Our best advice is to stay away from the motorway during Anniversary Weekend."
He says construction of the new viaduct is ahead of schedule. The new southern viaduct at Newmarket opened Sept.2010. It's one of NZ's busiest roads, with on average more than 160,000 vehicles a day.
This closure will allow the motorway's northbound lanes to be moved to the new viaduct. At the same time, the blue lifting gantry used for the viaduct's construction will moved onto the existing northbound viaduct to help with its demolition.
Southbound motorway traffic is not affected by this closure. And if weather is bad (although the forecast's looking good), the work could be delayed until Waitangi Weekend. Detours will be in place this weekend and detour routes to key destinations are available online. NZTA is asking drivers to avoid the motorway during the work.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Only Vicious Dog Solution

Nearly 12,000 NZers sustained dog bite injuries last year (incl.more than 1700 on children under 10).
loving family pet?
Stunning! Over 30 a DAY, so we're obviously only hearing the tip of the iceberg in the news. And so often when it IS reported, it's an attack on a child...such as three recent instances:
a 15mth.old wanders next door with his new toy lawnmower on Xmas Day and is attacked by a tethered pitbull with a history of running at people; a Rotorua 9yr.old has deep cuts to her head and arm after being bitten by an American bulldog while walking the dog with its owner; an Ashburton 3yr.old's throat is ripped open by a doberman Staffordshire bull terrier cross, apparently wanting the toddler's chocolate...
And the response?
NZ Kennel Club pres Owen Dance says dog attacks are inevitable until parents have a better understanding of dog behaviour, and can advise their children how best to approach an animal. Ok, so how many years must a child be confined until they're old enough to be a "dog whisperer"?
Auckland Council proposes tough new laws (incl.desexing uncontrolled dogs caught twice in one year).
Local Govt.Minister Nick Smith dribbles the usual crap about "taking a fresh look at the rules".
But dogs can't read, so it comes back to the owners. Gangs like pitbulls because they intimidate people...and you can guarantee hoods wouldn't give a damn about 'tough new laws'.
The SPCA ranks pitbulls No.1 on the list of instinctively aggressive dogs. Let's face it: the breed was created for fighting. After a 2003 attack on a 7yr.old by a Staffordshire bull terrier cross, four breeds (American pitbull terrier, dogo argentino, Brazilian fila and Japanese tosa) were classified "menacing" and their importation banned. But those already in NZ were left to breed and interbreed freely. And so the situation continued...
If we seriously seek a 'golden bullet' solution, then that IS the solution. ALL dogs classified as "menacing" or "dangerous" should be put down forthwith. Rangers should have the power to instantly impound and destroy any of those breeds they see. All owners of such dogs should be ordered to surrender them immediately or face the consequences. If that involves the breaching of some gangs' precious civil rights by storming their HQ to remove guard dogs, then so be it, as it's in the Public Good.
NZ needs to stop pissing around and DEAL with this situation HARD.
The only good vicious dog is a DEAD vicious dog.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Has 3News Shrunk Its Own Head?

Over the last few days, I've noticed two news agencies attaching incorrect photographs to their on-line stories (AsiaOne.com and 3News).
3News is a New Zealand tv company reporting a NZ story. So it puzzles me why this error was made: I would not have expected such a mistake, in a story from one's own country.
But not to rest on its dubious laurels, 3News did it again yesterday!
This time the story was of international significance: the return to NZ of shrunken maori heads (= toi moko, the maori term for the tattoo and the head that bears it). Under the headline 'Maori heads returned after French senator's fight' we read:
"Twenty Maori heads taken from NZ more than 200 years ago are finally on their way home after an emotional ceremony in Paris...the repatriation is largely thanks to French senator Catherine Morin-Desailly who personally campaigned for five years for the return of the toi moko...".
So far, so good. But then...the illustration.
3News used this picture >, a 19th Century image of a maori woman (or wahine) with facial tattoo (moko). But why use her image to illustrate the story? Hers was not a head that was removed and shrunk. Instead, why not post a pic of the actual subject, a shrunken head? This
< particular image has been widely used by other media - but not this time by 3News!
And the picture's caption reads:
"A French senator fought for five years to change the law so the toi moko could be returned." Why then did 3News not use a picture of Catherine Morin-Desailly herself? > After all, she seems to be the hero of the hour, and the 19th century maori woman was not a French senator!
Fair go, 3News! Surely you can't be in that much of a rush, that you can't get it right! Or should your slogan now be: 'See it first...then get accurate news elsewhere'?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Third Pod On A Spit This Summer

Around 100 pilot whales stranded yesterday at Golden Bay at the top of the South Island.
Dept.of Conservation (DOC) workers tried to coax the confused whales towards deeper water but they were unresponsive and stranded as the tide receded.
22 of the whales are already dead. About ten DOC workers and up to 40 volunteers are at the beach trying to keep the remaining whales comfortable. It was hoped the whales would refloat themselves when high tide occurred overnight. If the whales are still on the beach this morning, attempts would be made to refloat them at high tide around 11.15am. It's too dangerous to try to refloat whales at night.
Project Jonah CEO Kimberly Muncaster says it's "tragic" to see two mass strandings at virtually the same site in just over two months. [It's the third whale stranding in the area this summer. Earlier this month, 18 of 25 whales were refloated when they stranded on the Spit. And 65 whales died when they became stuck on a remote section of Golden Bay in November last year.]
Tues.8am Update: At first light today, volunteers found 34 dead pilot whales, despite a midnight high tide on which the whales could have refloated themselves. DOC says 28 whales have gone overnight. However 39 whales are alive and volunteers plan to refloat them on the 11am high tide.
Tues.3pm Update: Just hours after being refloated, the 39 whales have restranded. The tide dropped so quickly that, despite a huge effort to stop the animals restranding, they grounded again. It's hoped they'll refloat themselves on the 11.30pm high tide. The 17 whales that refloated overnight were last reported heading out of the bay in 28m of water. At high tide about 11am today, the 90 volunteers also became stranded on the spit - they had to wait for the tide to recede so buses could arrive to take them back to base.
Wed.8am Update: Following a second night on land, DOC reports 35 live animals and four more dead. The surviving whales are in reasonable condition, and another refloating attempt will be made on the noon high tide.
Wed.5pm Update: Although the whales were refloated today, two had to be put down...all the survivors appear to be making their way out to sea this evening.
Thurs.5pm Update: After the survivors restranded again last night, the decision was made to put them all down this morning. The final tally: 82 of the 99 whales died...

+ Seems it's not just 3News journos who attach wrong pix to whale stories. AsiaOne.com yesterday reported this stranding... with a photo of a Nov.2011 Faroe Islands pilot whale massacre!! Jeez!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Scientists Playing God

Lab techos have created a deadly strain of bird flu...with the potential to kill us all!
For the first time ever, the H5N1 strain of avian influenza has been mutated so it can be transmitted easily through the air via coughs and sneezes. Until now, it could only be transmitted between humans via very close physical contact.
But now Dutch scientists want to publish full details of how they did it! This has raised fears that terrorists will be able to use it as the ultimate bio-weapon. This is a scenario often used in thrillers: Tom Clancy's Executive Orders (featuring an airborne strain of the Ebola virus) readily comes to mind.
Bird flu has killed hundreds of millions of birds since first appearing in 1996, but has so far infected only about 600 people. What makes it so dangerous? Well, it's killed about 60% of those infected, making it one of the most lethal forms of influenza EVER – only moderated by its inability (so far) to spread easily through airborne water droplets. But now these clowns have cracked it! Why? Because they can?
The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is saying that key parts of the scientific paper should be changed to prevent bad guys from reverse-engineering their own lethal strain.
The study was carried out at Rotterdam's Erasmus Medical Centre. And where is this potentially Doomsday Bird Bug now? Still at the medical centre under lock and key, without armed guards, in a basement building!
Some scientists are questioning whether the research should ever have been done in a university lab, instead of at a secure military facility. Perhaps they should be asking if this should ever have happened at all! The worry is that if they create something this deadly and it becomes a truly global pandemic, the mortality and cost to the world could be massive. And experimental viruses kept in seemingly secure laboratories have escaped in the past eg: a 1977 flu outbreak.
Ron Fouchier, the Dutch virologist who lead the team, once described his work as "really, really stupid," but ultimately useful for the development of vaccines.
Yeup, really, really REALLY stupid...!

PS: 23 Jan.2012 - China reports a second bird flu death in a month.
PS: 24 Jan.2012 - Scientists have suspended their H5N1 research amidst growing security fears.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Project Jonah Hunts For Farting Surfer

Well, I guess SOMEONE had to ask the question.
Department of Conservation says yesterday's whale stranding in the Bay of Plenty had nothing to do with sonar being used to salvage containers from the Rena.
Four Raised Beaked whales died at Papamoa Beach, just down the coast from Tauranga. Three were dead when found and the fourth died soon after.
Project Jonah (an organisation dedicated to protecting marine life - and seemingly for smelling conspiracy theories too) suggested there could be a link to the stranded Rena, as sonar can cause a loud explosion in the water that can injure nearby whales.
But could it have been a flatulent swimmer? Or possibly a stealth submarine in the vacinity, pilfering from the Rena wreck...
Sadly, no. DOC has confirmed the whales were simply feeding too close to the shore and became stranded.
The whales were two feeding juveniles, and two lactating females. DOC says it looks like a juvenile stranded and the others stranded as they supported it. DOC has taken samples from the whales to test for toxicity, and to ascertain if the animals ingested anything dangerous.
Project Jonah's CEO Kimberly Muncaster says sonar could have been a factor, as hearing is crucial to whales' survival: they use it to hunt and communicate.
For the benefit and continued education of any journalists reading, please note these pictures are of BEAKED whales - NOT like the 3News story which featured file pix of stranded PILOT whales!
All whales are NOT created equal. Neither, it would seem, are journalists...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Climate Change Makes Faster Birds

While debate continues about the causes of climate change, the fact is: the climate IS changing. And as it does, we're seeing other changes around us.
Wind speeds over the Southern Ocean have been increasing over the past three decades and those stronger winds are making seabirds stronger and faster. Wandering albatrosses are benefiting from the changes, with shorter trips, improved breeding, and weight gain.
The wind speed shift is linked to climate change, in a study published in the latest issue of Science.
Scientists studied the wandering albatross, which spends most of its life in flight, touching down on land mostly just to find food or to breed. But they believe other birds like petrels have been affected by the wind changes too.
The team analysed 40 year's worth of information on an albatross population on the Crozet Islands, a sub-antarctic group of small islands in the southern Indian Ocean. For decades, researchers have monitored the birds' feeding and breeding, and in 1989 they began outfitting the birds with satellite transmitters to track their travels.
The researchers found that Southern Ocean westerlies increased by 15% over the past few decades. Both female and male flight speeds got a boost as a result, with females alone traveling about 311 miles per day in 1990, but about 435 miles per day as of 2010. Easier flights have improved their breeding success, allowing them to grow larger. The weight gain may be an adjustment to the speedier winds, allowing the birds to experience greater wing loading while in flight.
The winds are also gradually moving towards Antarctica: all animals in the region, from birds to their prey, are likely to have been affected. It's predicted wind strength will continue to increase, and that the poleward shift will continue. 
At present albatrosses are under constant threat from longline tuna fisheries, which have indirectly killed as many as 300,000 per year! Of  22 albatross species worldwide, 17 are classified as threatened.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Vocab 101: 2011 Edition

A number of interesting words popped up in our vocabulary last year.
No, I don't mean new product names like Android, or lazy-ppl abbrvs like apps for xmpl.
I refer to words like liquifaction, known only too well to Christchurch residents... but obviously not well enough by the powers-that-be before the two big EQs.
Then there was graupel, the strange pseudo-snow that got Auckland all a-tizz and had the rest of NZ yawning.
And following the overcrowding debacle and the Adidas marketing mess in the *yawn* Rugby World Cup lead-up, where once ruggernauts talked about line-out throws and the make up of the back three over a doz, now they recline on lazyboys with pinot discussing sports execs’ crisis communication techniques.
Our national marketing gurus changed one word and spent up large: it's now all "100% Pure You".
A colourful name on our news horizon last year: Harold Camping, announcing the end of the world: going once, going twice...and while talking "nutters", scratch one off the vocab list: Qaddafi. His famous last words: "What have I ever done to you?"
Back home, Alisdair talked tampons while Ratana spelt "false prophet" with just four letters. We struggled to explain to overseas friends why mythical monsters got backhanders to stop obstructing railway tunnels: the word taniwha means "spot the sucker".
Ficken was registered as a brand name - as in "Dense pine thicket behind thick finches pecking hard!" WTF?
A new name on the political horizon (well, in a new job): David Shearer - of Labour, not of sheep. Though he may yet fleece the loyal few...
The name Rena will also be remembered without fondness. Don't expect an upsurge of use in christenings. But it did give Greenpeace a chance to do odd paintings with dead penguins.
While on the subject of boats, the Tupperwaka sank into oblivion taking $2m.of taxpayer money with it.
Kap'yong: there's a word NZ forgot - as in the 60th anniversary of RNZ Artillery's heroic stand. A forgotten battle in a forgotten war... sorry 'bout that, vets.
And to round things off (literally), add this word to the list: Grasse! It's Italian for "Fat!"
What wordly wonders await us this year?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wikipedia's Self-Inflicted Black Eye

Free online knowledge site Wikipedia has pulled its own plug for 24 hours, to protest draft US anti-online piracy legislation.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has the backing of Hollywood, the music industry, the Business Software Alliance, the National Assn of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce. But the founders of Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo! and other internet giants have expressed concern that it would
"give the US government the power to censor the Web using techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran."
" 'Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.' MLK - on Wednesday, Wikipedia demands," Wiki founder Jimmy Wales said, citing slain US civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
He said Wikipedia is going dark for a full day. He tweeted:                   
"Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!"  (Mind you, students should be aware that Wiki is not the font of all knowledge, because anyone can add info to it. It's full of inaccuracies, and should be used more as a starting point for research, not the definitive word. However my niece was told by her teacher: "If it's on Wikipedia, it must be true"! Riiiiiiigghhtt. And how young is this teacher...? However, I digress...)
I fail to see how locking your shop and blacking out the windows for a day, to protest something happening in a shop across the road, is going to help your business! Shoppers will simply - cross - the - road. Customer loyalty takes years to build up... and minutes to rip down.
There are many ways to protest: punching yourself in the eye is a curious choice.

PS: 19 Jan.2012 - And how would you cope, with NO internet???
PS: 20 Jan.2012 - Wiki, quit grandstanding. Find an alternative.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blood Spilt - And It Ain't Whale!

Three Sea Shepherd activists have been injured in the Southern Ocean by Japanese whalers.
The clash came yesterday morning off the Antarctic coast SE of Tasmania, where SS's Steve Irwin is being tailed by harpoon ship Yushin Maru 2. SI has been unable to shake off the pursuit that began on Christmas Day, which has prevented it from approaching the factory ship Nisshin Maru undetected.
Activists have repeatedly used fast, rigid inflatables to unfurl ropes under their pursuers' bows in attempts to foul the rudder and propellers. But this time, the YM2 crew dropped a heavy grappling hook onto the small zodiacs.
Animal Planet cameraman South African Russell Bergh, and French photographer Guillaume Collet were each struck on the arm and shoulder and suffered deep bruising.
SI crew member American Brian Race was jabbed twice in the face with a bamboo pole, receiving cuts above his right eye and on his nose. This SS photograph taken from a helicopter shows Japanese crew members holding a grappling hook over the bow of YM2.
A video released by the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) surprisingly shows a whaling crewman sharply thrusting a pole near an activist in a dinghy - normally the two groups are hugely divergent in their accounts of incidents.
Glenn Inwood, ICR's NZ-turncoat mouthpiece, says the Japanese were merely retrieving a rope the activists had thrown to try and snag the whaler's propeller. He says if activists were injured, it's because they came too close. Riiiiight - so explain the bamboo pole, Glenn.
Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson said YM2 was "aggressively tailing" SI. He said they were almost at the eastern boundary of this year's expected hunting area in pursuit of NM. As two of the three nasty Nippon harpoon vessels are tailing SS ships, there can't be much actual whalekilling going on...

Corrections Lets Maori Crims Off Illegal Fishing

Gee, didn't see that sign!
Prisoners caught illegally taking seafood from a marine reserve, while out on a cruisy little rehab junket, are gonna get away with it!
Six Hawke's Bay Prison inmates and two staff from programme provider Choices Kahungunu Health Services were nabbed emerging from a marine reserve, about 30km E of Waipukurau last Saturday. The crims were on temporary release, in a programme which provides a maori environment for prisoners near the end of their sentence.
Corrections Minister Anne Tolley's asked for an explanation, but she says the prisoners won't face any action over the matter, and the department is very confident in Choices' ability to provide the services (so before she's received an explanation, she's already decided the outcome. Great.).
Choices manager Tania Luscombe says the staff took a wrong turn and went to the wrong beach. Riiiiiiiiiight. She says the trip had been planned since November and the prisoners had spent months learning about team-building, gathering free food, water skills and the regulations. The Ag.+Fisheries Ministry had talked to them about what they could/could not collect. It's claimed staff took the crims diving in an area they thought was outside the reserve. The group was met by the DOC ranger and police when they got out of the water, and the seafood confiscated.
Fishing is prohibited in marine reserves and anyone caught can face up to three months' jail, $10,000 fines and possible forfeiture of boats and fishing gear.
Now here's the bit again that gobsmacked me... the Corrections Minister says the prisoners will not face any action over the matter.
The crims supposedly spent months learning the regulations, been briefed beforehand, had seen the signs, were caught red-handed... and they - won't - face - any - action??? If Joe Public was busted in the same situation, you can guarantee he'd be fined.
But oh silly me, I'm forgetting two very important points:
(1) These are prisoners. They're treated with kid gloves because, in our PC world, these fine gentlemen are being rehabilitated and must be given every single possible break! Over and over again!
(2) The crims were in a programme providing a maori environment. And we all know what that means.
Let's get real here! The two staff and six crims were all up for a tasty free feed on some wicked kaimoana from the reserve. A good day out on the taxpayer. They were caught in a illegal act. They should face the court in exactly the same way as everyone else.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Costly Italian Penis-Waving

Friday the 13th. A jinxed ship.
Italiano bravado.
These and other elements came together in the weekend capsizing of the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia.
Superstitious sailors regarded the ship with suspicion: at its launch in 2006, the champagne bottle didn't break, and later it struck a wharf - two bad omens.
Until now, Costa Concordia and other Italian cruise ships had a habit (not official policy, but it often happened) of sailing very near to the Italian island of Giglo and displaying as many lights as possible, to entertain tourists and basically say hello to retired sailors there. This is why photographs show the ship alarmingly close to shore.
The captain claims the rocks which sliced a gaping hole in his ship were uncharted. He also suggests a power failure may have disabled the steerage, thus causing the collision. The ship was a mere 150m from shore - he insists he was twice as far out. But even 300m offshore is too near (officials say cruise liners normally sail about 2-3 nautical miles off Giglio) so had he not been so close, any risk would've been negligible. He does concede he was manoeuvring in
"touristic navigation" - implying a route that was a deviation from the norm and designed to entertain the tourists. He denies being found safe on shore some hours before the last of the passengers were off his capsized cruiser...
The ship's Italian owner, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines, issued a statement late on Sunday saying there appeared to be "significant human error" on the part of the captain.
Survivors talk of no emergency drill taking place aboard; of liferafts not being lowered until the vessel's tilt made it impossible; of crew members saving themselves; of panic and fights over lifevests... shades of another famous sinking almost exactly 100 years ago!
The 951ft, 114,500 tonne vessel was the largest Italian-built cruise ship. Last weekend, it had 3216 passengers and 1013 crew members aboard. At least 16 are now dead...just for a bit of showing off?

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green

Can we take him seriously?
Ask yourself: what would Kermit do?
The NZ Green Party is drafting a proposal which may see our navy stalk Japan's whaling fleet annually.
Green Party MP Gareth Hughes is writing a private members' bill to amend the Defence Act 1990. This would see a naval vessel tail the nasty Nippons, which he says will ensure the safety of protesters. The mooted law change will be placed into the private members' bill ballot when Parliament resumes next month - that doesn't mean it will be debated: just that it will have the potential to be selected for debate. There can be as many as 40 bills competing for the few available places on the Parliamentary Order Paper, so the odds of Hughes' bill getting through are slim. But the thought's there.
He argues the proposal is one of the functions under the Defence Act anyway: "It's like when Kirk first sent a frigate to Mururoa Atoll. It's about bearing witness to an environmental crime." [In 1973, NZ PM Norman Kirk as a symbolic act of protest sent two navy frigates, HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Otago, to the French nuclear test site at Mururoa.]
NZDF occasionally conducts surveillance patrols of our economic exclusion zone (EEZ) and the Southern Ocean. And our latest Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) do have an ice capability. [The OPVs Otago and Wellington have strengthened hulls enabling them to enter southern waters where ice may be encountered. They are not designed as ice-breakers or to enter Antarctic ice-packs, but have the range and capability to undertake patrols down south where ice may be encountered.]
The Greens have repeatedly called for the NZGovt to send a navy vessel to follow the whalers/protesters tag-team, but have been consistently rejected: "We need more than just words to save the whales. Diplomatic pressure has failed. At this point in time, the best thing the govt can do to save the whales is to ensure the safety of protest vessels trying to stop the hunt."
Last Friday the Oz federal Coalition harpooned a similar proposal by the Oz Greens. As always, to hell with what the voters want...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bullies On The Start Line!

Q: Start a 7yr.old against Usain Bolt in the 100m, and who'd win?
A: The one who didn't make a false start.
The Jamaican sprinter was disqualified from the World Champs 100m final last year after he false-started. But now young kids have been sent crying from a track event in Tauranga, thanks to Running Nazis enforcing Olympic Games rules on 7-year-olds!
At last weekend's Colgate Games, automatic disqualification for false starts reduced young competitors to tears and spurred boos from outraged spectators.
Some of NZ's top athletics coaches say these rules are just too harsh for kids. National track and field coach Chris Palone says the rule, to stop runners making deliberate false starts to gain a psychological edge, came in after the 2009 athletics world champs. Palone (who's coached gold medallist triathlete Hamish Carter) feels "it's inappropriate at this level... common sense should prevail and we can come up with an alternative bylaw."
Brent Ward (coach of Olympian sprinter Chris Donaldson) said young children find it tough to hold themselves in position at the start line. "At that age, they're often not strong enough ... so you're asking kids to do what some of the most skilled athletes in the world find difficult to do. It's an easy way to put them off the sport, rather than encourage them."
But Tauranga Ramblers coach Malcolm Taylor sides with the Running Nazis: "They've gotta be trained to listen to the gun. I'm sympathetic to them, but I think we were trying to be fair at Colgate and the rules had to be adhered to."
The Colgate Games is run by the NZ Children's Athletics Association (NZCAA), which says the rules were created by the Int.Assn of Athletics Federations. So...what? Are they saying "Don't blame us - it was them??!!"
These are children. They no doubt put their hearts and souls into training, and anticipated attending the event so much. Why couldn't NZCAA allow one false start? How hard could that be?
It's vital to encourage sport participation at an early age, not shatter their confidence and eagerness into tears. This is not far short of blatant bullying!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

All (Moderately) Quiet On The Southern Front

After last weekend's incident involving the Forest Rescue protestors boarding Shonan Maru 2, it now seems a bit quiet down in the Southern Ocean.
Just a few shuffles on the dance floor. So...who is where? Ok, SM2 is no longer chasing Steve Irwin. It's been replaced by the harpoon vessel Yushin Maru 2. SM2 headed west to the Australian customs vessel Ocean Protector to hand over the three prisoners yesterday.
[PS: 15 Jan.2012 - Transfer is now complete...]
With YM2 now tailing SI (exchanging water cannon squirts with butyric acid bombs) and Yushin Maru 3 still illegally hovering around Macquarie Island, the factory ship Nisshin Maru now only has Yushin Maru nearby. SI has lost contact with NM...so it's possible that whaling has now begun. If so, the catch will be low as there's only one harpoon vessel involved in killing.
SS's third vessel for this seaon, the fast scout vessel Brigitte Bardot, remains in Fremantle undergoing repairs from damage caused by the extreme weather conditions. The repair bill is likely to top $200K.
Meanwhile SS is working to secure a third large, fast, ice-strengthened vessel for next season. A three-boat tag team has already proven effective against the fleet, resulting in an early tail-between-the-legs scurry back to port last season.
The dropping away of SM2 means there's no possibility of the Forest Rescue men being transferred to SI. This hand-over would have saved the Oz govt hundreds of thousands of dollars. But it would also have meant a Japanese whaler actually having to interact civilly with SS...and that would never do!!
Now...despite being ordered by Australia out of the World Heritage Area and territorial waters of Macquarie Island, YM3 remains just one mile outside the 12-mile territorial limit (but still in the whale sanctuary). The ship is breaking Oz law which bans such vessels in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as well as territorial waters. But the problem is: there's no Oz vessel down there to police the EEZ, so it's a bit like crying over spilt milk.  
Meanwhile Bob Barker, in heavy fog, got away from YM3 and is heading south to find the rest of the whaling fleet...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Milk Price Just Got Creamed

Be surprised. Be very surprised.
Foodstuffs promised this week to pass on a reduction in the price of wholesale milk to The Great Unwashed - us!
New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra announced it was dropping the wholesale milk price from the end of this month...although it's not known how big the reduction will be or how long it will last.
But Foodstuffs, which owns the Pak'n'Save chain of supermarkets, has said any savings will be passed on to customers. No word yet from opposition Progressive Enterprises (which owns Countdown), about whether it will also pass the reduction on...but it would be very bad PR not to.
Fonterra says international dairy prices have softened since the highs of last year and, while they're on the rise again, it expects to see local prices come down slightly.
You'll recall after we moaned and bitched loudly last year about the rising retail milk prices, Fonterra froze the price of NZ wholesale milk.
What I find curious is the constant reporting that NZ's milk prices are at the whim of the international market, yet Fonterra supplies 30% of the world dairy market! 30%!! With that sort of control, WHY are we are the "whim of the international market"? Why is it not the complete reverse?
Being such a valuable source of nutrients for the young, I'd like to see milk a damn sight cheaper than it even is now. I know we'll never again see the "good old days" when it was just 4c a pint (true!) but surely there must be a place for some sort of government subsidy, out of the health budget perhaps? Or a trade incentive, to motivate Fonterra to reduce the price some more? Then after that, a return to glass bottles for easy recycling...oh yea, and home delivery too... See? I don't ask for much!
PS: 25 Jan.2012 - Finally! The govt.unleashes the Commerce Commission on Fonterra's pricing! 
PS: 07 Feb.2012 - Until the end of February, Nosh Food Markets have slashed 2L of milk to $2 (from $4.49)!! Go, Nosh! There's the challenge - do other supermarkets have the balls to match/better this?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Can NZ Herald Be Any More Crass?

Many in NZ are still reeling from the weekend's hot air balloon accident that killed eleven.
I'd suggest many are also reeling from the crass article that masqueraded as journalism in the NZ Herald last Monday. While I struggled with its implications, well-respected media man Brian Edwards as usual hit it right on the head!
I've taken the liberty of reproducing his entire Monday 9th post because, quite frankly, I doubt anyone could put it together better!
Unseemly and unhelpful speculation from the Herald on balloonists’ last moments
It is entirely appropriate that every possible effort should be made over the coming months to determine what exactly led to the ballooning accident that claimed 11 lives on Saturday. That knowledge may make a similar accident less likely in the future.
Less appropriate is ghoulish speculation on the victims’ last moments alive – were they electrocuted, incinerated or killed when they plummeted to earth? The events are simply too raw for the relatives and friends of those who died to see such horrific scenarios canvassed in the media.
The Herald, however, had no such qualms, sending its reporter Amelia Wade off to interview a clinical psychologist, one Barry Kirker, on what might have been going through the minds of the eleven people as they faced certain death.
Mr Kirker of course doesn’t know the answer to that question. No one does. But he was willing to speculate at length not merely on what would have been going through the victims’ minds, but on how their friends and loved ones must be feeling as well.
Mr Kirker’s speculations, the Herald tells us, included the observation that “the scenario was similar to that of the 9/11 victims, and the terror attacks might have put the thought to jump in Chrisjan Jordaan’s and Alexis Still’s minds.
“A bit like the people who jumped from the Twin Towers in New York, they might have thought, ‘What the heck, we’ve got nothing to lose – if we don’t jump, we’re definitely going to die.’”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No Whale Sushi For Me

Lose of face? Or just a practical decision?
Japan will hand over to Australia the three Forest Rescue activists who boarded one of its whaling ships last weekend.
Tokyo has decided they won't be charged, despite earlier accusing them of trespassing. No spanking for Geoff Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy and Glen Pendlebury because they didn't injure anyone on the Shonan Maru 2 or damage it, when they dropped by to say "konnichiwa". This follows high-level talks between Oz diplomats and counterparts in Japan's fisheries and foreign affairs ministries.
Tokyo is consulting with Australia on the transfer of the men...but just how that'll happen is a wee problem. SM2 is currently rushing south, chasing SS's Steve Irwin which is chasing Bob Barker which is chasing the nasty Nippon whaling fleet. Japan's Fisheries Agency is reluctant to have SM2 lose touch with SI, so there's only a small window of opportunity for the transfer.
And it's been reported that the trio is on a hunger strike: obviously whale sushi just ain't their cup of green tea.
This has been a nightmare for the Gillard government, which was attacked by the Greens and the opposition, both demanding a government vessel to patrol the whaling grounds. It also had to go head-to-head with Japan over an issue it seems more inclined to dodge these days (or at least leave for the International Court of Justice to rule on, sometime in the never-never).
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the Southern Ocean patrol ship Ocean Protector, which was in Fremantle on Friday when SI called to refuel, should be sent to keep the peace over whaling, or at least to retrieve the protestors.
Greens leader Bob Brown plans to introduce legislation to require an Oz patrol ship to be on station whenever whaling occurs in an Australian whale sanctuary.
Neither Japan nor Australia wanted a diplomatic incident...which I suspect is exactly what this event was designed to ignite.
PS: 15 Jan.2012 - Prisoner transfer is now complete...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dammit, Jack!

He is Da Man!
The right man in the wrong place all of the time... but still Da Man!
Regular followers of this blog will need no reminding that I'm a BIG fan of the tv action series 24. In fact, right now I'm working my way (for the fourth time) through the entire set and am halfway through Series 5!
But yesterday came confirmation that fans of Jack Bauer have been waiting to hear. The long-rumoured movie based on 24 is scheduled to begin shooting in the Northern Hemisphere spring.
Kiefer Sutherland played the beleagured Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agent Jack Bauer for eight years, and will reprise the role for shooting starting at the end of April or early May.
In the finale of 24 in 2010, Bauer slipped away with virtually every government agency hunting for him (and Chloe covering his back one more time), and there was a tacit promise his adventures would continue in a movie.
Fellow cast members have always expressed interest in such a sequel. I can't wait!!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Another Stranding in Golden Bay

Farewell Spit - photo: Brian Robinson
Farewell Spit strikes again.
Last Friday, this marine mammal deathtrap caught 25 long-finned pilot whales, close to Triangle Flat in Nelson's Golden Bay. This followed the refloating of a single stranded pilot whale on Friday.
The 25 whales that beached on Friday afternoon were part of a pod of 70, seen swimming close to the beach that day. Seven whales died overnight Saturday, while cool overnight conditions worked in the surviving whales' favour. They suffer during daylight - if it's sunny they get sunburnt - so the whales had the best possible conditions for spending the night on the beach.
The remaining 18 were refloated on Saturday morning's high tide, and encouraged to swim away from the beach, but they were lethargic. In their disoriented state they could have easily restranded, so Dept.of Conservation staff and locals kept a close watch on the coast.
(You may recall last November, 47 pilot whales died and 18 were euthanised after they stranded on tidal flats about 3km offshore at the tip of Farewell Spit, marking the start of the stranding season.)
As of yesterday morning, there was no sign of the pod returning... with one tv channel hailing it a "triumphant mass whale rescue".

Divine Wind: Japanese POWs

Three Oz activists are today POWs - Prisoners Of Whalers - having been detained after boarding a Japanese vessel yesterday.
Sea Shepherd helped three men from the Forest Rescue group to board the Shonan Maru 2 in Oz coastal waters (here's the video clip of the boarding).
The men sailed out to intercept the ship off the WA coast, as it tailed Sea Shepherd's Steve Irwin (which had escorted the damaged Brigitte Bardot to port). They were met by two SS zodiacs: these approached SM2 at night and the three climbed past razor wire, spikes and rails to get aboard. They delivered a message: "Return us to shore in Australia and then remove yourself from our waters."
The trio acted because they feel the Federal Govt is not doing enough to stop the killing of whales. They say the Japanese are operating in contempt of Australian courts and in defiance of the will of Australian people. They hope the action will remind the OZ govt of its obligation to prohibit whaling vessels in its waters.
Spokesman for the Institute of Cetacean Research, Glenn "Ginza" Inwood, confirms the men are still aboard SM2: "They are unhurt, they're being questioned and there's been no decision on anything beyond that at this stage." He claims the men boarded the vessel well outside Australian territorial waters - about 40km from the coast - and any suggestion otherwise is false. SS and Forest Rescue say the incident happened 16.2 miles off the coast: outside territorial waters but inside Australia's 24-mile contiguous zone. The
Greens are calling for Federal Govt intervention, saying SM2's position when boarded was 32 degrees, zero minutes south and 115 degrees, 21 minutes east: inside the zone. Australia's Tokyo embassy has contacted the Japanese government seeking urgent clarification of the vessel's location.
Meanwhile SM2 cannot legally leave Oz waters with the men aboard and, if they approach land to offload the three, this would give SI an opportunity to slip past and rejoin Bob Barker and the chase for the Nisshin Maru factory ship. Of course, this may also be a ploy to draw the Australian Govt into a diplomatic incident with Japan.
Watch this space...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rena: NOW She's Split

The storm and huge 7m waves that slammed Rena overnight finally accomplished what over-eager journalists could not: the container ship is now in two pieces. NOW.
Last weekend journos hungrily jumped the gun, reporting the vessel had broken apart (even as late as this afternoon, NZ Herald was still reporting she'd broken into two pieces "just last week"!). 
While Maritime NZ was quick to correct the earlier ever-so-slight journalistic cock-up, it was obvious the ship's end was nigh...
Overnight the internal organs holding the two halves together finally gave up the ghost, with fore and aft sections now about 25-30m apart.
The forward section is in its original position on Astrolabe Reef but the stern has broken away, moving significantly but still on the reef. The tug Go Canopus is connected to the aft section and keeping an eye on developments.
A large amount of debris is in the water, including containers, timber and bags of milk powder, and will be washing up on Bay of Plenty beaches over the following days. MNZ says somewhere between 200-300 containers have been washed away today (as of last Friday, 881 containers were still aboard while 389 had been removed and around 98 had been lost overboard).
Today's NZH story with - sensational headline "Coast under threat as Rena splits up" - doesn't actually give any details about anything coming from Rena that is threatening the coast, apart from debris... hardly a *shock*horror*probe* threat, NZH!).
Weather is expected to be poor for the next 3-4 days. 
PS: 10 Jan.2012 - Most of Rena's rear section has now slipped off the reef and is sinking. 
PS: 29 Feb.2012 - Rena's captain and navigator plead guilty in court.
PS: 28 May 2012 - Soft sentence for Rena officers!

RWC: Marty, Where's The Money?

What say you, Marty?
More than half of NZ tourism operators say the *yawn* Rugby World Cup didn't provide the promised boost.
A Tourism Industry Association NZ members' survey found 46% felt the tournament period was better/much better than the same period in 2010. But almost 18% saw no change, while around 34% considered the tourny period to be worse/much worse.
TIA policy and research manager Simon Wallace says these results support the word-on-the-street: "They told us that while operators in the main game centres did well, other regions did not reap as many benefits as they may have expected from fans travelling around the country between games. There was also a definite shift when the business end of the tournament moved to the North Island."
And even businesses in Auckland, the focal point for those end games, weren't rolling in the readies, with less than 10% feeling they got any benefit from it at all! So...
Dear RWC CEO Martin Snedden,
Please advise when the projected economic boost from the Cup is due. I assume it's still coming, as it's not here yet.
Perhaps all the accounts aren't in. Perhaps there'll be some late ticket sales as souvenirs. Perhaps a few warehouse clearances of the other souvenir mountains. Maybe a tax on whoever's NOT still flying RWC flags and banners. Or Adidas may give some of its profits from excessively overpriced RWC jerseys. Or a wave of tourists coming to see where their teams were beaten.
Ok, here's the deal: you buy the Cup,
and I'll throw in the kid for free!
Perhaps you'll pawn your CNZM from the New Year's Honours...
Y'see Marty, you promised us a cash tsunami to drown all the doomsayers, you poo-pooed negative economic projections as "incredibly flawed", you (and RWC Minister Muddling McCully) did your jingoistic vuvuzela-blowing loud and long.
But we're still waiting.
Yours expectantly,
The Long-Suffering NZ Public."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Vic Park Flyover: The Magic Bullet?

flying over the flyover
This Monday - all change!
January 9th. is when the Victoria Park Flyover opens as southbound-only.
All four lanes will take traffic south, while northbound traffic happily breezes through the two available lanes in the new Victoria Park Tunnel beneath (incidentally, the third tunnel lane opens in March).
But there's no opportunity for drivers to change lanes once they're on the flyover...because the central barrier previously separating north- and southbound traffic will still be there, splitting traffic between City and Newmarket/south. This means drivers'll have to think much earlier, about which lane they need to be in for exiting!
Sacrebleu! Est-il possible?
To avoid dangerous lane-swapping in St.Mary's Bay, motorists are advised to choose their correct lane as far back as prior the Harbour Bridge, while still on the North Shore. Frankly, this is practical and safe driving practice that should have been in place years ago!
NZTA's local State Highways Manager Tommy Parker: "It’s proven internationally that drivers don't gain anything by frequent lane-changing. In fact, they slow the entire network down. By getting into the correct lane early, and staying in that lane, they will help make the drive through St Marys Bay a lot safer and smoother for everyone."
Awww, bless ya, Tommy! In an ideal world...but methinx it's a very safe bet we'll see snarl-ups in St.Marys Bay for many moons to come!
[...many thanx to AKT]